Help! Your home Wi-Fi is down and it can’t get up! Also, you haven’t heard a good medical alert bracelet joke since 1998. If only there was one group of techies who could solve both problems…
Hi. We’re the PropellerHeads. Did you try switching to airplane mode and back again, so the connection would get reestablished? (This is for your network, not your alert bracelet.) We can also help you tackle ransomware, block spammy emails, and create a PC backup plan, if you’re into that sort of thing (and you should be).

Dark Matters

Apr 26, 2019

Dear PropellerHeads: My new laptop has a bright screen, which is great during the day but causes eye strain after hours of use. Is there a way to save my eyes without stepping away from the screen?

A: Yes! But first, a warning: Do not microwave grapes. (Seriously – look it up. bit.ly/2SKfMDz)

Our mistake, we were supposed to save that warning for a future column. The warning for this column is: We’re not qualified to give any kind of medical advice, so everything here is anecdotal from our own experiences. If you continue to have eye strain, and especially if it comes with headaches, you’ll want to talk to someone trained on this kind of thing.

The first thing to try is just manually adjusting your screen brightness, especially when the lighting around you changes (for example, if you switch from working at the office to working at home on the couch). Most laptops have a function key (top row of the keyboard) or other key dedicated to this task. Look for a pair of keys with “sun” icons on them.

One will increase the brightness and the other will decrease it. You might have to hold down another “Fn” or “Func” or “Function” key while tapping the “brightness” key. Try lowering the brightness as much as possible while still leaving everything on the screen readable.

This will likely go a long way, but you might still find that the culprit is color contrast more than brightness. Unlike desktop monitors, laptops often make it much harder to adjust contrast. You can dig around in your control panel or laptop configuration for contrast settings, but you won’t want to change that all the time because of the hassle.

If you work in low-light conditions a good bit (at night or in a not-well-lit office), a bigger help will be adjusting the color temperature, in particular turning down the “cool” (bluish) colors and turning up the “warm” (yellowish and reddish) colors. If you have Windows 10, use the “Night Light” setting available from the notifications area in the bottom right of the screen. Mac users should look for “Night Shift” under the system preferences.

Most newer phones and tablets have similar features built-in, but if yours doesn’t, check out “f.lux” (justgetflux.com), which is free for personal use and available on several platforms. Newer phones and tablets also have a grayscale mode – look under your device’s “Accessibility” settings for options to disable color altogether.

Lastly, consider using “dark mode” in your operating system wherever you can. Windows 10 users can go to Settings, Personalization, Colors, and check “Dark” for the “default app mode.” If you have the latest macOS (“Mojave”), go to System Preferences, General, Appearance, and pick “Dark.”

It takes some getting used to – give it a few days – but once you make the adjustment, you might wonder how your eyes ever lived with everything being bright and white all the time.

If you have an older operating system, or just want to give dark mode a trial run first, apply a dark theme or skin to software you use all the time, like your browser. Chrome users should check out the “Material Simple Dark Grey” plugin (bit.ly/2v3jnhC), while Firefox users have “Dark Theme for Firefox” (mzl.la/2XbS7tf). Browser makers plan to add these options as built-in features soon.

These only change your browser “chrome” (the tab bar and outer areas surrounding the web page), which won’t help much if you spend your time on sites with blaring white backgrounds (which is to say, almost all of them). For that, you need something like Dark Reader, the “dark mode for everything” (darkreader.org). It works in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, and applies a dark theme to any site you visit. You can adjust settings like brightness, contrast, and grayscale (and even font settings) on a per-site basis.

If you’re already using a “read-it-later” app of some sort, like Pocket (getpocket.com) or Instapaper (instapaper.com), look for a toggle to turn on a dark theme (or sepia theme) in the settings.

It took us years to get here, but finally, gone are the days when our poor peepers had to take whatever garish colors and bright lights were thrown at them from a laptop screen. Now, when it comes to the ability to stare at our screens for hours at a time, the eyes have it.